According to the National Pesticides Telecommunications Network (NPTN), a pesticide is a chemical used to control a pest, be it “an insect, weed, bacteria, fungus, rodent, fish or any other troublesome organism.[i]” While some are naturally occurring in the environment, most pesticides are manufactured for use in our homes, on public lands and for agricultural purposes.
More than 700 synthetic organic compounds have been identified in various U.S. drinking water supplies, with contamination originating from a variety of sources, including household products and “leakage or improper disposal of chemical wastes from commercial and industrial establishments.” The EPA acknowledges that there is ample evidence to suggest organ damage, cancer and adverse reproductive effects on laboratory animals exposed to pesticides in their drinking water at even the smallest amounts. And while scientists have set minimum contaminant levels (MCLs) for pesticides that are permissible in drinking water, there is an increasing acceptance and awareness that most water sources are contaminated.
Intuitively, it seems logical to assert that whatever is lethal to a pest or weed, could also be harmful to other organisms (including humans).[ii] The risk varies from person to person and community to community, with individual impact also complicated depending on how well a person’s system can process and filter out the good and the bad. Pre-existing health conditions or weak immune systems complicate matters. Studies are limited by the fact that many health problems are difficult to trace to a specific cause and thereby can be deemed inconclusive. And since some cancers can remain latent for up to 40 years, it is easy (and convenient) to diminish the correlation between contaminated drinking water and adverse health affects.
Pesticides can infiltrate our homes, our natural resources (especially water) and our bodies much easier than one might think. A 2012 study by Cornell University revealed, “twenty- two pesticides have been detected in U.S. wells, and up to 80 are estimated to have the potential for movement to groundwater under favorable conditions.[iii]” Even in the best case scenarios, these chemicals seep into our water tables each time it rains and can even travel through the air to contaminate the surface waters used for the public drinking water systems.[iv]
With the change in seasons, many of us are gearing up to beautify our homes and our gardens. Our thought often is: “I can spray chemicals all over my lawn and on the perimeter of my home without any residual effects on my own health or body.” Out of sight, out of mind. WRONG.
At MOM’s, our newly launched Save the Dandelions campaign raises awareness about the impacts of artificial fertilizers and pesticides on the environment. Hopefully we can share the benefits of using organic, all natural compounds instead of the toxic products most of us are accustomed to. Although fear can be just as lethal as the fossil fuels we live and breathe these days, it can also serve to expedite and inspire change. Here are a few things you can do, now, to make a difference during the campaign and for years to come.
1. Get smart: It is increasingly vital that we work together to encourage the protection of our groundwater recharge and push for government screening and regulation of pesticides. Have a look at the diagram below to see how interconnected our water systems actually are.
2. Take pride! Get excited about the Save the Dandelions campaign, unlike any of its kind on the Eastern seaboard.
3. Share the wealth: Get your local neighborhoods and communities involved. Help with tabling at your stores and work with your ER captains to make your store’s program as robust as possible.
4. Baby steps: Think of small changes you can make, at work and at home. This could be anything from buying less abrasive cleaning products to planting gardens of native plant species in your backyards. Me? I aspire to start a ladybug farm (ladybugs are naturally occurring protectors against pests!) and try to convince my father his emerald green lawn can be achieved naturally.
What about you? Share your BIG ideas below!
Ryan works at MOM’s Alexandria
[ii] Many scientists and environmental advocates agree that human beings are indeed at risk, with more severe symptoms possible in pets and children. The Partnership for Environmental Education and Rural Health (PEER), Texas A&M University, 2012; available at: http://peer.tamu.edu/curriculum_modules/Environ_Hazard/module_4/lesson2.htm
[iii] More than twenty states, including Maryland and New Jersey in the mid-Atlantic region, have reported some pesticide contamination of groundwater. More info available at: http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/facts-slides-self/facts/pes-heef-grw85.aspx